Suyog Ketkar is a certified technical writer who specializes in content-design interoperability. He has published two books, ‘The Dogfight and the Lone Peacekeeper’ in 2021 and ‘The Write Stride – A Conversation with Your Writing Self’ in 2017. His articles and poems have appeared in national and international books, poetry anthologies, and magazines. He has been active on his website (suyogketkar.com) since 2007. On Quora, he has over 400 answers. You can also find him eager to share his enthusiasm for collecting and using fountain pens. When working, he is buried in books and information. Outside of work, he is an award-winning dad.
- When did you write your first book?
I wrote and published ‘The Write Stride – A Conversation with Your Writing Self’ in 2017. ‘The Dogfight and the Lone Peacekeeper’ is my second book (and my first in the genre of historical fiction). I published it in 2021.
- How did you start writing fiction?
Fiction writing isn’t easy. You are embarking on a journey along with your readers. It came to me as an inspiration. I wrote the story inspired from the real-life story of my maternal grandparents. I’d go so far as to say that I didn’t write the story, the story chose me to be written.
- What was the inspiration for the story?
I’ve grown old listening to stories of my maternal grandfather who fought in WWII. His heroic encounters with death inspired me to create a work of fiction that was based on him and his life. That’s why the protagonist and his girlfriend are named after my maternal grandparents. A lot of episodes from their life depict the love life of the central characters of my novel.
The events also draw certain similarity, and you can find geographical and historical references to WWII. The experiences of people during the Burma Campaign, for example, are real and drawn from interviews, transcripts, and numerous other video-based and written references.
I’ve tried to walk this tightrope between fantasy and fiction. In essence, there wasn’t any dearth of inspiration for the novel.
- How did you develop your plot and characters?
The idea was to create characters that resembled the age, era, and style. Each of the characters in my story has their own choice of words, a dressing style of their own, a thought process that they stick to, and a certain set of mannerisms and habits they follow. Each character has their own story arc, where they develop and grow with the story.
Unlike authors who prefer to write by the fly of their pants, I chose to work on the novel in an extremely structured way. I had a certain ending in my mind, so that is how I built my story. I structured it such that the characters and the story reach that ending.
Then I broke the progression down into logical breaks. Each of those breaks is a nerve-wrecking cliff-hanger where the chapters end. My story’s timeline begins somewhere in the middle of the overall plot. Then, I take you all back in time to where it all began. This helps you build the character arcs. They grow along with your understanding.
But the plot progresses with a third-person’s perspective. So you get to hear and listen what the others are saying. Even antagonist’s thoughts are clear. You can listen to and understand why he says what he says or why he does what he does. Unless you know the complete perspective, how else do I think you can draw your conclusions? That way, you are passively empowered by the end of the novel.
- Do you have a favourite character from this book? If so, who? And what makes them so special.
My favourite character is the protagonist’s girlfriend—my maternal grandmother from the real life, that is. I never imagined that her character would carve itself out so well. The initial idea was to create a protagonist whose character sketch is larger than life. But I ended up creating a power couple.
You can witness the progression of Shakuntala’s character. It has shades of calmness, enthusiasm, logic, inner strength, playfulness, and wit. She is willing to listen and learn, implore and explore, and co-contribute and grow. She has got solid skills of deduction, and she can connect the dots proficiently. You will like her as she is, but you will want her to do a lot of things. She comes out as a truly worthy partner for the protagonist, Wing Commander Vasant Kale.
- If you had to describe your protagonist Wing Commander Vasant Kale (from the book) in three words, what would those three words be?
I’d say he is compassionate, pensive, and visionary.
- How did you do research for your book?
I read a lot of books, historical references, aircraft manuals—and blogs from people who have spent their lives flying those aircrafts—and watched a lot of interviews of those who experienced, fought in, lived through, and witnessed the era of WWII.
- What were the key challenges you faced when writing this book?
The biggest challenge for me was to truly describe this person who was, in every way, larger than life. Of all the experiences and recollections I have heard about him, I have not heard a single instance where he might have faltered.
The funny thing is I have met those who are either admired or respected. And here is a man, who managed to be both admired and respected. I never met him; he passed away long before I was born. But, through this book, I met him. Now I know that it wasn’t easy to be Vasant Kale. I hope that I have been able to translate that sufficiently enough in the novel.
- What do you hope your readers take away from this book?
I hope to see them become better versions of themselves after reading my book. I wish for them to see that we all learn even when we are not consciously learning. But, above all, I hope that they take away the fact that they, too, can be both admired and respected.
- How do books get published?
There isn’t an easy way to get books published. Aside from the seemingly impossible task of writing itself, there are a lot of things that constitute the steps before the book finally reaches the readers. You submit your book’s proposal (and sample chapters) to multiple publishers. If you are lucky, or if they find their company’s objective aligning with those of your story (or yours), they ask you to submit the full manuscript. If they still find your work worthy and can make some money as they publish and popularize you, they can help you get published. But, of course, before you get published, there are other things you have to take care of, such as proofreading.
- How did you end up with your publishers?
I sent my sample chapters to a lot of publishers. I heard from a handful of them. But I chose to go with the one that aligns well with my novel’s underpinning theme of patriotism. I am fortunate to have worked with them.
- What is your opinion on self-publishing platforms like Amazon KDP etc.
They are excellent platforms for you to reach a wider audience. With each increment in the number of steps to get published, I will say, your commitment toward your audience gets more and more serious. A blog is, therefore, a relatively economical and friendlier way to connect with your audience than a self-published book. A self-published book is a lot cheaper and quicker way to get to your audience. However, a traditionally published book is considered as the most serious form of publishing.
- On a typical day, how much time do you spend writing?
Outside of my work, anywhere between 15 minutes to a couple of hours. This is subject to a lot of controllable and uncontrollable factors. In my work time, as well, I invest myself as a writer. So, there is oftentimes an overlap of knowledge and skills. Work, howsoever different from writing novels, requires similar commitment. Perhaps, even more.
- What’s your favourite novel/book?
In nonfiction, it is William Zinsser’s ‘On Writing Well’. It is a self-help book on writing. In fiction, it is ‘Halfway Up the Mountain’ by Kiran Khalap. It is about the journey of girl who is in search of happiness.
- What are you reading now?
I’m reading ‘On Writing Well’. Once again. I read it once every year. I have been doing that for some time now. Every time I read it, I learn something new.
- Who is your favourite author and why?
Oh that is a difficult question. There isn’t one, actually. I believe, there shouldn’t be. I like the works of Ruskin Bond. I love the works of Manoj Das (a Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan awardee). I adore the works of William Zinsser. I admire Jane Austen’s writing skills. I can connect deeply with the works of Kiran Khalap. Each one of them is a master storyteller. Every one of them has a signature style of connecting with the readers. And there is so much that you can learn from them.
- What is your one advice for the writers out there?
People often confuse the art of writing with a fountain or waterfall, when, in fact, it is neither. It isn’t just the spurt of imagination. Writing doesn’t begin when you put pen to paper or begin typing. It begins when you begin thinking. A larger part of writing, therefore, involves sifting through all thoughts to get to your initial drafts. You still have to reduce that clutter or gibberish into meaningful set of sentences. Even then your thoughts don’t always translate to words the way you intend. And, that’s why it is critical for us to rewrite. I’d advice budding writers to not be fearful of rewriting. It isn’t easy or simple, but the cost—in terms of your efforts, that is—is worth the investment.
- Are you working on anything at the present that you would like to share with your readers?
I am working on short stories. My first published work was a nonfiction. My second published work is a fiction. In the recent years, I have honed the poet within me. In a way, I am exploring the limits of my strengths. Hence, short stories.
I thank the author for accepting our interview request and taking time out from his busy schedule to answer all of our questions patiently and sharing his side of the world.
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